VIDEO: Hip Hop on trial: Hip-hop doesn't enhance society, it degrades it (London)

Is Hip Hop the authentic voice of the oppressed that turns anger into poetry and political action? Or is it a glorification of all that holds back oppressed minorities and hinders them from mainstream assimilation?

In London on 26 June, Hip-Hop pioneer and legend KRS-One, celebrated civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, computer scientist and composer Jaron Lanier and many other rappers, poets, and academics came together to debate the motion, ‘Hip-hop doesn’t enhance society, it degrades it’. See the profiles of the participant and more at

In favour of the motion was lawyer Eamon Courtenay, who argued that the Nigga and Bitches culture eventually leads to crime. Against the motion was Hip-Hop intellectual and Professor of sociology at Georgetown University Michael Eric Dyson, who pleaded that Hip Hop doesn’t send black people to jail, but that the white oppressive system in the US and the UK incarcerates black men.

Interesting debate. The only problem is that you had a debate between a Caribbean lawyer who knew nothing about Hip Hop and African-American Hip Hop professor who knew everything about Hip Hop. That’s not a match.

I don’t think that Hip Hop degrades society, but because of its social and commercial influence it does stereotype black communities as basketball playing, singing and rapping communities. The latest joke I heard was that “rapper” was the most popular academic degree and job title among blacks. I do feel we need to get rid of that image.


  1. Unfortunatelly the comercial hip hop which has been propagated by the music industry in the US nowadays transmits a bad image of the movement, really far from the essence of it begin in the 1970's by Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Master Flash and others. But hip hop when is concious is still powerful to change lives we see that all the time in Brazil. Although this a huge part of our identity as black in Sao Paulo for example, city where the hip hop started here, started with the hip hop. For this reason my research is about it.
    And through my African American friends, I know there are still some groups in the US trying to do a positive hip hop overthere.

  2. You're absolutly right. There is nothing I can add to your comment!

  3. What a stupid debate. Hip-hop is American. Why have the debate in London? Why even have a black Caribbean talking for black Americans?

    Dumb debate and with stupid debaters, like Jesse Jackson.

    1. Truth2011, the black Caribbean is KRS One, he is regarded as one of the pioneers of Hip Hop.

    2. Thruth2011 showing ignorance once again.

    3. You said Caribbean lawyer in the description of the video. I'm only going by what you said.

    4. You said "black Caribbean talking for black Americans". So I presumed you were referring to KRS one, because the lawyer wasn't talking for black Americans.

    5. I'm not sure how KRS One is a black Caribbean when he was born in America.

    6. I believe hip hop became global, and this shows how powerful it is because can send it message everywhere. But if we start to talk about it origins we can talk that it is American, but if we go back in the history the DJ's who start to mix were Jamaicans, and if we go more to the roots the oral tradition in use rhymes to talk came from Afrika. In Brazil for example, although our hip hop was inspired by American hip hop, hundred years before hip hop started here, we have already had a rhythm named "repente" and it was traditional from the northeast of the country, and is totally simillar to rap metrics. So I think hip hop with this name was born in America, but it is one of many fruits of the diaspora.

    7. Truth2011, since you regard France-born blacks of African descent as "Africans", I though you also would see U.S.-born blacks of Jamaican descent as Caribbeans. But apart from that, I've noticed that many Caribbean-Americans still claim their Caribbean heritage, even if they are half Caribbean like Sheryl Lee Ralph. For the record, I also see them as black Americans, but it sometimes feels that I’ am stepping on someone's feet if I don't refer to someone's Caribbean/Haitian origin.

    8. Caribbeans are blacks not Africans. Africans can trace their roots to Africa. Africans in France are not far removed from Africa which is why they're called Africans.

      Do you really not believe that there's no difference between a black American or black Brazilian or Black Jamaican, whose family has been in the Americas for 5 hundred years, with someone fresh off the boat from Africa?

    9. This really isn't that complicated. Whites in America don't call themselves Europeans. They call themselves white.

      It's the same with blacks nowadays.

    10. KRS One was born in America, but his parents are from Jamaica. So of course I didn't say that Caribbeans are Africans. I said that if you call second generation French Blacks of African descent "Africans", you should also call second generation American Blacks of Jamaican descent (like KRS One) "Caribbeans". That's pure logic.

    11. Afro-Europe 2 - Thruth2011 0


      How about Alex Haley,the author of Roots who could traces his roots to Africa thanks to oral tradition in his family?

      African or Black? Makes nonsense

    12. That is pure logic. He'll also call himself black American or black Caribbean. But, he won't call himself African. I can guarantee you that.

      Africans in France are straight from Africa, whether it is through their parents or from Africa themselves. That's why they're called Africans.

      It really is no different than with white Americans. They don't call themselves European. Their ancestors haven't been in Europe for a long time. Just like with blacks, more and more. Black Americans is what we like to be called.

    13. Many amongst white Americans call themselves Italian-American or Irish.

      And many black Americans want to be called African American.

    14. Anonymous (both), I understand what you mean.

      And Truth, I think we have finally reached an agreement, as always.

      Jamaicans/Caribbeans in the US are straight from Jamaica/Caribbean, whether it is through their parents or from Jamaica/Caribbean themselves. That's why they're called Jamaicans/Caribbeans.

    15. That's exactly right. They're from the Caribbean and they call themselves Caribbean. But it's always black Caribbean or black Jamaican.

      I have never heard someone call themselves an African Jamaican or African Caribbean. It's always "black."

    16. Daniela Gomes, is that true that mixed black Brazilians are calling themselves black now because of America?

      I heard out one-drop rule is spreading to Brazil as those who might have black blood (even small amounts) are calling themselves blacks instead of mixed?

    17. I think people should take with a grain of salt (meaning not automatically believe) what any one Black person from the USA says about which self-referent/s or group referents people of African descent (including people of Caribbean descent) use in the USA.

      I don't believe that there is one definite answer regarding the questions:

      1. Which referent/s do people use for themselves if they have some Black African descent and they are from the Caribbean and/but they live in the United States?

      2. Which referent/s for themselves do the descendants of those people so described above use if they were born in the USA and/or they live in the United States?

      And when can those people and their descendants legitimately refer to themselves as "African Americans"?

      I think that personal choice plays a BIG role in which referents ALL of these people can legitimately use.

      On a personal note, my maternal grandmother was from Barbados and my maternal grandfather was from Trinidad. I have no recollection of them EVER referring to themselves as "Bajan" or Trinididian" or "Caribbean". My grandfather died in the late 1950s and probably referred to himself by whichever racial referents for Black people in the United States were being used at that time [Negro, Colored People]. My grandmother died in the 1980s but because of her age and because of custom, she probably also referred to herself as a "Negro" or a "Colored" person. I have no recollection whatsoever of my mother, my maternal aunt, and my maternal uncles ever referring to themselves as "Caribbean" or "Black Caribbean" or "Bajan" or "Trini" or "Trinidadian". They also used/use whatever racial referents for Black people were currently being used in the USA.

      Note: my mother and one of my uncles were born in the USA, but my aunt and my other uncles were born in Barbados. But, to my knowledge, that didn't effect how they referred to themselves. Also, I believe that my maternal grandparents and my maternal aunt & uncles who weren't born in the USA had green cards, but I don't know if they ever became USA citizens. But my contention is that my relatives who were born in Barbados used the same self-referents as many Black people born in the USA i.e. "Negro", "Colored People", and later "Black" and "African American".

      Although I'm a Black "Unitedstater" who has some Caribbean ancestry, I have NEVER referred to myself as "Caribbean" or "Afro-Caribbean" or "Black Caribbean". I now use the referents "African American" formally and informally use "Black" or "Black American". However, depending on the circumstances, I might also share that my maternal grandparents were from the Caribbean and I might also share which Caribbean nations they were from.

      And the two times that my daughter [who is 3rd generation Caribbean on her maternal side] went to the Caribbean festival "Caribana" in Toronto, Canada, she purchased and waved a Trinidadian flag, mostly just for fun.

      In my opinion, more people should recognize that there are multiple ethnic groups among African Americans. "Caribbean" is an ethnic group/s. So is "Creole" and "Gullah" and so, for example, is "Kenyan" or "Nigerian" when people born in those nations live in the United States and their descendants are born in the United States.

      Sharing information about my Caribbean ancestry doesn't mean that I'm less of an African American. It just adds more information about my roots.

    18. I'd also add that while I think this discussion of racial/ethnic referents is interesting now and perhaps also as part of a historical/sociological documentation of such discussions, I regret that there's not more discussion about the societal values/influences of hip hop music.

      But (and also) for those who might be interested in further reading on the subject of group referents , here's a link to a blog post I originally wrote in 2005 about the group referents that many African American have used:

      Full disclosure - I just added my comment about Caribbean referents which is posted above as an addendum to that pancocojams blog post. I also added a hyperlink to this Afro-Europe blog post.

    19. Azizi Powell: I'm not sure if you've noticed this, but on government forms and applications, there is no "African American" category to select. There is, however, "black (not of hispanic origin)" and "black American (not of Hispanic origin."

      So, it's hard to define yourself as something you can't actually put down. Black Americans advocated for the "black American" racial category. Remember, it used to be "negro"?

    20. truth2011

      Yes, I'm aware that there are a lot of different USA state & federal forms. Some of those forms may not include the referent "African American" but it seems to me that most of them have a category of "African American or Black (Non-Hispanic)". For example, here's information about the racial/ethnic categories in the USA Census forms:

      "The Census Bureau collects racial data in accordance with guidelines provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and these data are based on self-identification.

      The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically. In addition, it is recognized that the categories of the race item include racial and national origin or sociocultural groups. People may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture, such as “American Indian” and “White.” People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.

      OMB requires five minimum categories: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander."...


      Also, there's a difference between the "negro" spelled with a small "n" and "Negro" spelled with a capital "N". The term was retired around the 1960s but since at least the 1990s If African Americans purposely spell that word with a lower case "n", it is meant as an insult to the person who is being referred to.

      Fwiw, because I've said all that I wish to say on this subject, this is my last comment in this post about racial referents.


    21. Truth 2011
      Racial relations in Brazil are complicated and to say that all mixed people here are saying that is be really optimist.
      Most people here including some really dark skin people who would be considered black in the US or Europe, in Brazil don't consider themselves as black.
      As I explained by email for one of our colleagues here, during the 19 century the scholar racial thought in Brazil taugh that if they start to bring white immigrants to here, the country would become white till finish the blackness, so it taught us that we should clean our race because be black was a shame. In the begin of 20 century they taugh us that blackness wasn't a shame but Brazil was mixed, so was a racial democracy, a paradise, so we shouldn't fight against racism.
      So, most of mixed people here consider themselves as white, even when they have signals of their blackness like afro hair, or lips, or nose they don't know why they are suffering racism.
      But most of the black identity in Brazil were constructed inspired in African American history and music, so is easier to know someone who knows about Martin Luther King or Malcom X than about Afro Brazilian icons, because our history were hide from us, we didn't learn anything about that on school for example. To learn about the abolition was to learn about a favor that white people did to us.
      What is happening nowadays, is that some african descent who are also activists (because almost every body is african descent in this country lol) and are proud of their blackness even if they don't have a really dark skin, or really afro hair, are assuming themselves as blacks, as Afro Brazilians, saying I'm proud of my African Ancestry and I choose to declare myself as black. It is my case for example. My family is totally mixed, but it was mixed during the colonization, so I have portuguese, indigenous, and black blood. I don't have anything of indigenous in my appearence, but although I have a really afro hair, and featurings, my skin is totally lighter, so in Brazil I can declare myself as white, because in my country people give more importance to your color than to your ancestors. For this reason the logical thing was that I shouldn't suffer with racism, but it doesn't happen. Before to realize that I was black, I was treated as ugly cause of my hair, and my black featurings and I didn't know why, and it happens with more 50%of our population, because the majority of AFrican Descent in Brazil are brown, dark skin people here are only 6%. So our work as activists nowadays is to show for those people that they can be proud of their europeans ancestors but they also can be proud of their blacks ancestors, because it isn't ugly or a shame.
      I declare myself as black, but people here, including black people wonder all the time why I do that, but they don't do that to my sister who is darker than me lol and my whole family in the US would be in the black category. So is really complicated to understand this in few words.
      I can explain better by email or fb if you wanna.
      But to say that all mixed people are declaring themselves as black just happen in my dreams lol, because here I have to give explanation about my decision every single day and people are almost putting me in a mental hospital because they can't understand why I wanna be black.

    22. My anthropology professor at my university spent time in Brazil. And he was saying that mixed blacks were starting to acknowledge their "blackness," due to America and American music. He is a white guy by the way.

      They will get a reality check coming to America and denying their "blackness." This goes for the "Whites" in Brazil too since white Americans don't consider Spanish, Portuguese and sometimes Italians as white people.

    23. He probably were living with concious people like myself. That American black music is an influent factor in the construction of the black identity in Brazil is true, for this reason I have a thesis to write lol it is exactly my research on my master course, but we are a minority, the majority of mixed people here, even those who have strong signals of blackness are still declaring and considering themselves as white. Is your professor Brazilian? What is his name?

    24. My professor is a white American, not a fake white person like in Brazil. He has an English last name (but then again, so do I lol).

    25. Also, how does Neymar say he isn't black? He's blacker than me!

      He shouldn't come to America then. Because people will call him black here once they look at his skin color and facial features.

    26. Well I guess I should never write "this is my last post on this subject". I just want to note that truth2011's statement "...white Americans don't consider Spanish, Portuguese and sometimes Italians as white people" was true in the past but IS NOT true now, meaning that since at least the 1960s if not earlier most White people in the United States automatically consider people from Spain, Portugal, and Italy as White people. But if people from those nations "look Black or Brown" (with "brown" meaning what Americans call "Latino/a") then they will be socially categorized as being Black or Latino/a. This is complicated because Latinos/Latinas" can also be members of the White race or the Black race. It's also complicated because of the existence of Afro-Europeans turns the definition of White that the USA Census uses on its head (meaning you Afro-Europeans confuse that definition lol) since what the census indicates is that all people born in Europe [and born in North Africa, for instance) are automatically considered White.)

      "The Census Bureau defines White people as follows:

      The term "White" refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who reported "White" or wrote in entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish...

      The cultural boundaries separating white Americans from other racial or ethnic categories have changed significantly over the course of American history. Even among Europeans, those not considered white at some time in American history include Ashkenazi Jews, Southern Europeans (Spaniards, Greeks, Italians etc.), Irish Catholics, Eastern Europeans and Germans.[21][22] Early on in the United States, white generally referred to those of British Isles or northwestern European descent.[23]"

      Also, Daniela Gomes, thank you very much for your comments. Sharing your personal information and experiences helps us better understand the way race was perceived in Brazil, and how and why for some people those perceptions are changing.

    27. Well maybe the USA census doesn't automatically categorize any European as being White since it gives itself wiggle room by stating "The term "White" refers to people having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa."
      [Italics placed by me for emphasis]

      Of course, that term "original people", needs to be further defined. Who were the REAL original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa? I don't think those original people had white skin, blue eyes, and straight blond or red hair.

    28. Truth 2011 - Neymar is a good example of a mixed person, his father is black, his mother is white, who has a black featuring, is considered black by the black movement, councious people and some people who aren't concious but have eyes lol and doesn't consider himself as black.
      The hard thing about be mixed in Brazil is, the system knows that you are black,the State knows that you are black, the police knows white people know that you are black, racist people know that you are black,but you don't know that and suffer racist situations without to know why.
      Things are changing our census here consider self declaration and nowadays more than 51% of the population is declaring themselves as black (preto) or brown (pardo), and they add this two categories and consider it the black population. It is a small win, because i the past we hade more than 170 definitions of color in the census, only because people didn't wanna say that they were black.
      Brazil is complicated, for this reason every time when I try to explain for an American our main racial issue here, I tell them that is self identity.
      In my case, I preffer the American definition, because to my American friends and during the time that I spent in the US I don't need to give explanation about my blackness.

      MS. Azizi, is a pleasure to tell you all more about the racial issue in my country, for this reason I have my blog in english and portuguese version, because I can touch the world.
      If someone here wanna share more information, please send me an email or add me on fb.

    29. I prefer the American definition of black too. Harold Ford to Wesley Snips is black in America. Ford has never denied being black but Neymar denies it?

      Younger whites, in America, that aren't racist actually make a distinction now between mixed black people and less-mixed black Americans. But it isn't out of malice or bad intentions. They think that you should acknowledge a white parent. There's nothing wrong with that. But, society will treat you like a black person. Just ask Halle Berry. That's pretty much was being a black person in America is about. You're grouped by how you look and even mixed raced black people will claim to be black here even over being called "biracial" which is actually accurate.

      Look at GK Butterfield. It's so funny because he should call himself white, but racists in his little town remember that he had a black great-grandfather so guess which race he chose to be? BLACK!

    30. Also Daniela, I can e-mail or add you to my Facebook. How do you want to do it?

    31. In my opinion the way that racial relations were constructed in America made African Americans more concious and strong while in Brazil we are still crawling. You can do both. Send me an email through my profile here or you can find me on fb as Dani Gomes.

  4. I was at my local Internet Cafe when all of a sudden I saw one name that was obviously listed first to get more viewers online. Q-Tip, then KRS One, then Jesse Jackson. No I did not fall for that ploy and have refused to watch it online, preferring to read about this debate. That's the problem with Hip Hop at present : Relies on visual imagery too much, which makes it in danger of becoming superficial - if not already. Firstly I felt that Jesse Jacksons name should have appeared first then KRS One etc. Secondly Q-Tip has changed his mind quickly!. When Biggie Smalls passed he was quoted in a magazine commenting 'Well if all you talk about is guns...' and on the N word 'It is a psychological mind trick ... Don't hate London for having the debate, hate the country it originates from for not having it - Estelle had to introduce singing in her act first before she got to where she is now. She was on the underground scene as a rapper for a while and certain men were not having it!. No one would promote her solely as a rapper. Someone once wrote to XXL in 2003?'Hip Hop was made by the men for the men' That's when I stopped supporting. In short; Learn the truth before you claim to be it...

  5. I just spent almost two hours listening to this discussion on hip hop. I found it quite interesting, though I agree with the participants that the format wasn't the best and the way the entire "debate" was constructed was a big mistake. I agree with those participants, including those in the audience, who reminded people that hip hop is a HUGE multifaceted artform that is much more than gangsta rappers.

    Michael Eric Dyson is a master wordsmith who has mad [a lot of great] oratory skills in the street rapper [talker] / African American preacher traditions. So it was no surprise that he ruled over his adversary, the London attorney Eamon Courtenay whose points about hip hop were much too simplistic and narrow. But then again the question being debated "Does hip hop degrade or enhance society" was much too simplistic and narrow.

    I also believe that it was much too simplistic to divide the panel into those who agreed or disagreed with the question "Does hip hop degrade or enhance society". Given that division, it was unfortunate and somewhat confusing that the debate host turned that division into those panelists who like hip hop [who were against the motion, meaning the point being argued] and those who didn't like hip-hop [who were for the motion]. However, several of the panelist on the "hip hop degrades society" side made it a point to say that they liked some kinds of hip hop.

    I was particularly impressed with the two women on the panel. And I was sorry that Benjamin Zephaniah and the Egyptian rapper Deeb were given so little time to speak.

    And, just for the record, I disagree with KRS' point that the word "nigga"* derives from the Ethiopian word "negas" which means "king". Actually, the Amharic word "negas" means "Lord" and is usually translated by Caribbean Rastafarians (and other Rastafarians to mean "prince". Be that as it may, "nigga" etymologically has no connection what so ever to "negas" except a connection latched onto by people who recognized a similarity between those two words in spelling and pronunciation.

    *I REALLY don't like that word or "the n word" and only use it here with great reluctance. I believe that the word "nigga" is just an old or new form of the n word. Needless to say, I don't belong to the school of thought that believes that the n word - in any of its forms - can be reclaimed or should be reclaimed (meaning made acceptable) for any people to use, including the use of those referents by Black people only.

    1. Correction:

      "negus" Amharic ngus, from Classical Ethiopic ngu, king, ruler, verbal adjective of naga, to rule, become king; see ng in Semitic roots.]

      I was thinking of the Amharic word "ras" when I gave that definition for the title of nobility "lord" but is usually thought of as "prince".

      I apologize for my mistake.

  6. Back in the Seventies, Big Youth had a song called "Every Nigger is a Star." This song was experienced quite differently in London, than it was in Jamaica. I can remember people debating whether or not to play it (too loudly), or play it at all. We did not need to give our National Front neighbors more of an opportunity to start throwing around the word Nigger, just because they heard it blasting from the window of some council flat sound system headquarters. A local group "!5,16,17" from South London came out with a song "Black Skin Boy" in which the lyrics stated that "...nigger sounds better...," and we reluctantly accepted that yes, back home our parents had heard the word and had sometimes used it to describe those amongst them whose behavior was less than desirable, but we could not and would not use the word to describe ourselves. We the racism we faced was too painful. Hip-Hop has changed the emotional timbre, first here in the States, where I now live, and as I have found out in my journeys back to the Uk, there too. Whether the word, used in its new context, has been a benefit is a matter of perspective. To white society Nigger, Nigga, Negus might as well all mean the same thing, and remember we were being thrown in jail during the Seventies, when conscious reggae music ruled the streets of the UK.


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